I worked as a marketing assistant for about a year and have evidence that I exceeded my targets each month. Suddenly, out of the blue, I was fired by my supervisor without any explanation or feedback. My termination paper stated that I had “poor performance”.
I’m shocked, upset and worried about what to say about this at the job interview, especially when I will be asked “what happened at my last job?”.
Signed: Fired and Fearful
I am so sorry to hear this. For what it’s worth, almost everyone I know (including myself) have been fired, without any clue why until much after the fact. You’re in good company — including Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The problem is that in job interviews employers do ask the question about why you left your previous job, and they are inclined to judge the fact that you were fired quite harshly. The key to getting past the question is to frame it up in terms of what you’ve learned, rather than what happened, suggests Lifehacker blogger Alan Henry.
After researching different online responses, I find the best advice and scripts to prepare were presented by ZipRecruiter’s Nicole Cavazos:
1. Be Honest. Do not lie.
Do not evade the topic. Be direct.
Don’t volunteer this information until you are asked. Find the best way to tell the story. If you are on good terms with your former employer, make sure that you’re on the same page regarding why you were terminated. You could say, “I misunderstood my former employer’s goals when I was hired. Although I was qualified for the position, it soon became clear that my skills were incompatible with her objectives.”
2. Be Concise.
It’s in your best interest to provide a satisfactory excuse for why you were terminated, but you’re under no obligation to provide a detailed explanation of what happened. Present at brief account of the past and then quickly segue into what you learned from the experience and how it makes you a stronger and wiser employee. Try this: “I’ve learned a lot from this situation. Now when I apply for a job, I do my homework to make sure it seems like a great match. For example, it seems as if my work history and accomplishments are well matched to your needs. I’d love to discuss how I think I can help address your issues, such as …”
3. Be Positive.
Never badmouth a former employer.
Again, focus on the positive things that you learned and contributed while working there. Try not to sound bitter. Skew the termination into a good thing by saying that it’s given you a perspective you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
4. Take Responsibility for your part.
That doesn’t mean accepting blame when it wasn’t yours. It simply means acknowledging your role in events and not blaming others for what happened. This can be as simple as admitting that your skills were not the right fit for the job or your personality was not compatible with your supervisor. There are times, however, when the blame is clearly all yours. Examples can include language barriers, missing the intercultural communication cues from the manager (different ways of giving feedback from a manager from your own country), chronic lateness, inappropriate conduct (towards a co-worker or otherwise) or failure to meet deadlines when given a reasonable amount of time in which to complete them. In this case, you bear a greater burden in convincing the employer that you aren’t generally unreliable. Talk about what you do differently to ensure that won’t happen again.
5. Don’t be defensive.
Sounding defensive only makes you seem guiltier.
Explain what you learned from the experience and why the employer can be confident that you’re not going to repeat your misconduct. Try this: “As you can see from my past work history, this event is an anomaly. I regret that it happened, but I’ve really learned a lot from the experience. I’m fully confident that it won’t ever happen again. As my numerous references can attest, I am a reliable employee and will work hard to prove to you that this incident is completely behind me.”
6. Focus on your accomplishments and the rest of your work history.
Answer the question and move on. Stay focused on what really matters.
To submit your questions for this column in confidence, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna Samuels B.Ed. (Adult Education), M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator who works at JVS Toronto as a Job Developer/Job Coach/Workshop Facilitator. Also, Joanna is a part-time instructor of employment counselling with people with disabilities at George Brown College.